Listen…

07/12/2006

My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, for man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires. James 1:19 (NIV)

God is so “funny.” Funny in quotes, because I didn’t think it was so funny this morning when Jim decided to make breakfast at O-dark-thirty on my day off! We’ve had this “discussion” before…there will be no pans rattled, no cupboards creaking and no bacon frying before 7:00 a.m. It seems a simple thing, and yet Jim decided he could do it quietly enough this morning that I might not notice…but I did notice! I heard the cupboard door, I heard the rustling around, I felt the movement of the RV and then the smoke alarm went off…I glanced at the clock, it was 6:24 a.m. On a normal workday, my alarm would not go off until 6:30…I was not a happy camper!!

There was no problem with the part of James 1:19 about being slow to speak--I was “slow to speak” all right, because I didn’t want to speak to Jim at all! I got up, made my coffee, slammed my own cupboards, threw a little tantrum, took my coffee and my morning pecans and went back to bed to spend my time with God…knowing this was not the best way to enter God’s Throne room for a time of prayer…or was it? It seems now that God orchestrated the whole thing to give me a jumping off point for this morning’s message.

The “quick to listen” part of this message had been formulating in my mind for many days now, and I could not wait to get to my computer this morning to let it pour out of my heart, through my fingers and onto the screen. “Quick to listen,” sure, that’s what we’ll write about, but what about the “slow to speak” part, and the “slow to become angry part”? “Let’s not forget about those,” God seemed to be saying at 6:24 this morning…

The anger began instantly--as soon as I opened my eyes from the early morning “disturbances”--and after getting my coffee and then going back to my room and shutting my door, I tried to focus on the things of God. When I did decide to speak to Jim, I knew it should be slow and deliberate and not so full of the wrath I felt, because I was very familiar with James 1:19 already.

My “speak” eventually came out as, “Was there a good reason that you needed to be frying bacon at O-dark-thirty this morning?”…Honey, dear, love of my life…? (The descriptive words used here were not really part of my “slow to speak” this morning.)

As I tried to focus on God before speaking, the anger was slowly dissipating--so the words were few to Jim--but after he left for work it became clear to me that this was all part of what I was to write about today, and to tell you the truth, I wasn’t thrilled about that. It’s not pretty, it’s not nice, and it’s not a picture of a righteous life or an attitude that “God desires.” What it is, is life, in its real form, in all its short-tempered ugliness, and what it is, is a perfect example of why we need verses like James 1:19 in the Bible to begin with…to be reminded daily that we are a people who have difficulty listening, and we are a people who can be much too quick to speak and much too quickly angered even by the simple things in life that do not go our way.

This morning did not go “my way,” and Jim apologized, he said he was sorry, and now he’s gone off to work and I’m left to write about it, and all the other things that God’s been working out in me this last week or so--because that’s how these messages come about--God walks me through the experiences, teaches me along the way, and then allows me to write it out for you so that we don’t have to feel alone on this journey through life towards Heaven. Through the good, the bad and the ugly, God will make a way for all of us who call on His Holy Name to save us!!

“Slow to speak,” many times, is directly tied to the “slow to become angry” part of the verse. When we are mad, what do we want to do? We want to let it be known WHY we are angry, HOW we have been wronged, and WHAT someone can do to fix it! The problem is, most times, there’s really no way to fix it. Just like this morning, I was already awake, the “damage” had been done, and I was mad! The only thing that can bring any resolve to that situation is for someone to apologize and someone else to accept the apology, and forgive…and then let it go.

God doesn’t say never to get angry in James 1:19, because He knows we will get angry, He says be slow about it because our “anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires.” God’s desire for us is a good life, a life that He designed in the beginning-- but our life has veered far from the original design because of the choices we have made, starting in the Garden of Eden. If we continue to make bad choices, there will be consequences to pay.

Jim knew that with his choice to make an early breakfast this morning, that he was taking a chance on waking me up, and he knew that if he did, I would not be happy--but he chose to go ahead anyway…the consequence was an unhappy wife, and we all know, “If mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.” It was not the best start to a beautiful day!

My choice then was whether or not to accept his apology. If I did, and would be able to let my anger go, my day could be filled with all the wonderful things God had planned. If I would not, and instead chose to hang onto my anger so I could “be right” and “make him suffer,” then I would not enjoy what God goes on to say in James 1:21, I would not “get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you.” (NIV)

God wants us to move on, to let it go, to be slow to anger and when we do get angry, He wants us to work through it quickly and be done with it. He wants us to live a life of peace and joy and love each day, to see Him in all things and be grateful. That can only be done by constantly refocusing on God in all situations and letting Him “bring about the righteous life that God desires.”

I’m refocused now, I’m seeing God at work, and Jim and I are talking again…I told Jim this morning happened because it was all to be part of today’s message--that it was orchestrated by God because God knows I’m not easily angered--but wake me up early on my day off and there’s a good chance I will be ANGRY! Do you want to know what Jim said? He said, “But why do I have to be a part of it?” I told him, “Because, you’re married to a writer!”

What else is a writer, like me, supposed to write about if it is not going to include the interaction I have with those around me as I walk through this life? Many times, I will jokingly tell those who talk with me to be careful, that the things they say may end up right here, as God teaches me through our conversations. But please know, it will most times be anonymous unless I’ve asked for permission to use your name, and almost always it will be approved by you before I share it with others, unless I already know you wouldn’t mind. I don’t want to lose all my friends!!

So, as I have enjoyed many conversations with people these last couple of weeks, God has been placing the first part of James 1:19 specifically on my heart, the part about being “quick to listen.”

Are we quick to listen?
It is difficult most times.
We are a people who want to tell our story--and sometimes that makes it hard to listen to others first--to get to know their heart, and their story, before we tell them ours. Once again, this part of Scripture, to be “quick to listen,” speaks volumes, I believe, about the best way to live this life as God desires.

Once again, I have examples that I will share with you…

In a writing class I recently joined, being “quick to listen” was put to the test. As those of you know who read what I write, God is all over it. Those that do not know our God, that do not love our God, probably do not love my writings. To take God out of the equation would leave what I write empty and meaningless for those of us who are looking to Him for guidance and peace and joy. Without God, would I even write? I doubt it! It is because of Him that I do write.

And so I sat at a local college, in this class of about 10 people, and a teacher, and I came face-to-face with what we, as Christians, must be prayerful about each day of our lives-- when and where and how we are to share our faith out in a world that many times does not know or love Jesus as we do--it can get “interesting”? We live in a world that many times does not care about Jesus, and does not want to hear about Jesus, and will not understand how all-consuming He is in our lives. And so I prayed silently, sitting in that classroom, “Lord, help me to know if I am to speak of You.” And I did not seem led to say anything specifically about Him, and as we left class that night, my friend asked me an interesting question. She said, “How do you turn it on and off?”

You see, with this friend we talk about the things of God as freely as we talk about the weather. But, with this friend, I have a relationship. We also talk about our kids, our lives, our hopes, our struggles. We have built a trust and a respect for each other so that when we talk about our God, it is easily accepted and done in love. It’s like that saying, “They don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”

In a classroom full of strangers, the best testimony to Jesus Christ is to be Christ to them. To listen to them, to encourage them in their writing, to build a relationship with them, and to listen to the Holy Spirit of God inside for instructions. Then when God says, “It’s time to speak about Me,” the timing is God’s timing, not our own, and hearts will have been prepared to listen to what God would have us say to others.

Some may argue this point, some with the gift of evangelism are more able to speak to any stranger, to present the Gospel to them and bring them to Christ right on the spot. I think that is awesome!! But God gifts all of us differently, and as I recently heard someone explain their gift as more of a friendship evangelism, I understood what they were saying. In my life, it seems God asks me to listen first, to listen long, to listen hard, and to speak when a heart is prepared to then listen to what He would have me say.

I love that! I love how God has transformed my life from being a very, very shy person to now being able to make friends wherever I go--and to then be able to share the things of God with them in that relationship. Just 9 short years ago, I had great difficulty in even asking someone I recently met to have lunch with me. I remember well being at my first Bible Study table with about 9 women…I was barely able to speak, but also being new in the area, I longed for some friends. Shyly, timidly, I asked a woman at the table if she’d like to have lunch with me. It was very difficult for me to do, but the great blessing is that we are very good friends to this day, and through the years God has helped me move passed that shyness and into a place where it is very easy for me to get to know a perfect stranger. How is that done?

“…be quick to listen…”

That is what God is teaching me, and in that, we can get to know another’s heart, and to perhaps even find a new friend. When we allow another to share their heart with us, we are then more able to pour back into that relationship our heart, and help them to know how very much God loves them and to be able to encourage them, or even introduce Him to them for the first time. Isn’t that what life is all about anyway?

Jesus commanded us to love our God and to love our neighbor…that is so much fun!! A wise friend of ours says, “People with a heart for God, have a heart for people.” Our job is to have a heart for God, and through that God will show us how to love our neighbor. In loving our neighbor, we must listen to their story, to care about what is going on in their life, to be interested in where they have been, where they are now, where they are going and what they are learning along the way.

Recently, I sat with yet another mom who has had to say good-bye to her teenage son on this earth. It was my first time to meet this woman face-to-face, although we had spoken on the phone once before. As I was preparing for this time together with her and with two other women who were joining us, I knew it was to be a divine appointment because of the circumstances that brought us together--but I didn’t know what it would look like. I knew that I was further down the road of grief and healing than she was. For me, it has been over four and a half years since Phil left for Heaven, for her it has been just over a year. What would I share with her that would help her on her journey? What would God have me say to a woman I barely knew about such a tender subject? This was a woman who already knows our Lord, who already knows of the Hope Jesus left us with, what could I add to that?

The time came for our meeting, and I felt inadequate. As I sat and listened to her story, which she freely shared, I wondered what I could possibly add that would be of any value. I was the supposed “expert” in the group, and all I was doing in the beginning of our time together was listening…and yet, as the morning went on and I learned of her son, of his activities and of his passing, I came to know this woman so much better. I came to know her desire to follow God through this difficult time, and when it came my time to speak, it was very easy compared to just an hour or two before. I could see her heart for God, I could see her love for Him, and I could see the pain that she must endure because of her loss. One of the things I said to her was that I could see how God was going to use this in her life for His kingdom work, but I was sorry that it had cost her so much… She encouraged me by her faith in our God, and I encouraged her too, I believe, by listening to all she had to say, and in that listening, letting her know that she was not alone.

When Phil was first gone, I needed to talk, and I needed everyone around me to listen to my story. I needed to talk about it, write about it, pray to God about it…I had to get it OUT!! Faithful family and friends allowed me to do that, and through that, I believe God has taught me it’s time to be “quick to listen” now. That is how relationships are built, and that is how He would have me share of His great love, because God is a listening God. He listens to the cries of our heart, every single day, all day long, if we so desire. He is never too busy for us, and He encourages us to speak with Him often. We are told to pray without ceasing! God is willing to listen, and if we are willing to do the same with those He brings into our lives, perhaps they will come to know the love of our Father as we have. Perhaps they will be comforted, as we have been. Perhaps they will feel loved, as we do! When I left this time with another mother who misses her son, we embraced as if we had known each other our whole lives…because we knew each other’s hearts.

Too many times, we are fooled into thinking that if we do not speak of the things of God, we are not doing our part in spreading the Good News of Jesus Christ. Even as my friend asked me, “How do you turn it on and off,” I felt guilty. Is that what I do? Am I denying my God, am I honoring Him as I should if I am not speaking about Him constantly? But perhaps that is the devil’s lie…perhaps we are much too quick to speak, instead of being quick to listen first? God calls us to love one another…in that, is it not caring and listening and helping? As stated in 1 Corinthians 13:1, “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.”

I don’t want to just be a loud noise that someone wants to shut out! I want to be a welcome relief in the middle of a storm or a warm hug on a dreary day. I want to be in relationship with people, where trust is built and God is not only evident in my speech, but in my actions too. If we will not take the time to get to know someone, we may even end up looking a little foolish in the end…as I will share in this last story…and “Please help me God to be loving and understanding in my words, using it only to help further Your Kingdom work and not to hurt the person involved.”

Just recently, I found myself in a situation that was a first for me, probably since becoming a Christian. Of course, before I became a Christian, the Good News was shared with me by some I met along the way, and I felt a bit oppressed by it, acting like I wasn’t listening, but in reality, I wanted to know more. Slowly, I came to a knowledge of the saving grace of Jesus Christ, and then the tables turned and I was called to share of the Good News with those I met. As I’m writing about here, I’m still learning how God would have me do that, and for me it seems, that means listening first most times.

On this day, I was with a person I had never met before. At first it was light chit-chat, and then it turned to the churches we attend etc...etc…etc…you know how it can go. I’m not much into chit-chat, so I was excited to get into the more important things of life so quickly, but it did not take long for me to notice that this person was on fire for the things of God. They wanted to share their God, their faith, and their church with me! To the point that some of the “Christianese” they were speaking, I did not understand. I think this person took that as a “clue” that I was not a completely devoted follower of Jesus Christ, and this was an evangelism moment for them! I can tell you this; it was eye-opening experience for me! As I sat and listened, I could appreciate their devotion and enthusiasm for the things of God, but I did not appreciate that they got to know very little of my heart before being so willing to share theirs. They did not take the time to get to know the “choir” before preaching to it!

As the events around this day unfolded, and really with very few words from me even needing to be spoken, it became obvious to this person that I was a devoted Christian. When it was time to say good-bye, I was given a very long embrace by this person, and a look from them straight into my eyes that spoke volumes about what didn’t need to be said. God was at work, as I listened on that day, and through all of it, I was learning something invaluable in my walk with the Lord, “…be quick to listen, and slow to speak…” You never know whom you might be talking to!

“If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom
all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have
a faith that can move mountains, but have not
love, I am nothing.”
1 Corinthians 13:2 (NIV)

The people of this world don’t want to know how much we know about our God, they want to know how much we love them. The people of this world don’t want to know our story; they want to tell us theirs. The people of this world need us to listen to them. To sit long and listen hard to what they have to say--to show them the love of God by our actions, more than our words.

The words will come, and when they do, they will be received in a miraculous way because they will not be ours…they will be God’s. After others pour out their hearts, God’s words will quench their thirst in a dry and dusty land. If we allow those we come into contact with to empty themselves before us, God will make us more than ready to fill them up with the Good News of Jesus Christ when they are done!

There’s no need to hurry or to panic with those God brings into our lives. He brings them for a reason, and He will see that reason through to the end. In all of this, God is not only instructing us in how to deal with our fellow man, He is instructing us in how to have a relationship with Him… “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” Revelation 2:7 (NIV)

When we go to church on Sunday, let’s listen to what the Spirit of God is saying to us. When we wake in the morning, let’s listen to what the Spirit of God is saying to us. When we get angry, let’s listen to what the Spirit of God is saying to us. When we sit with another, let’s listen to them, and also listen to what the Spirit of God is saying to us…it will “bring about the righteous life that God desires.” We will learn to love God and to love others, when we listen to both first.

Learning to listen,
Diane